Tuesday, 21 April 2015
TRANSITION IS OVER, THE PRESSURE IS BACK ON
With great abilities comes great responsibility. The targets have been modest since David Moyes successfully dragged a team of Champions into mid-table Premier League status. Having missed out on European football altogether, Manchester United would be afforded the 'luxury' of going into a season with the prime objective of a top 4 finish.
In that regard, it is true that the job after the successor of Sir Alex was the one you would want as a manager. With the club still coming to terms with the new realities of lowly finishes, the man after the man after the man was always going to be given; A) time to sort it out and B) perhaps more crucially, a target relatively easy to accomplish.
At Manchester United, it has taken Louis van Gaal the longest time at club level to get his much famed philosophy into the veins of the club. Everything at United works in a process now. In fact, one can argue that the spiky press conference after the game on Sunday in which he blasted a reporter for interrupting his response was in irritation at having the thought process of Q & A disrupted. Perhaps the most revealing testament to his determination to stick to the modus operandi of his Philosophy was in drafting Robin van Persie in the U-21s fixture with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium last evening. The Philosophy rises above compatriotism, we learnt.
Juan Mata reports that in the dressing room post Chelsea when the players sought answers from the Dutchmaster as to why they had come up short despite sticking to their instructions, he praised them for sticking to his and now their footballing idea. Indeed, more than anything else, United won more admirers for their performance at the home of the Champions elect. Reducing Chelsea to a Championship looking side trying to sneak a result in the third round of the FA Cup was no mean feat for a side who only 12 months back could not stand toe to toe with Everton.
United are back in the big time. That much we now know. However, being there comes with added responsibilities, the kind that Liverpool could not meet this term. Another transfer window of ins and outs will mean that United will now be held to a higher standard. Come August, United will be required to represent the biggest threat to Chelsea's crown. It will no longer be deemed 'okay' to finish in the top 4. In fact, the fact that we have managed to put up some minute sort of title challenge for all of 1 week this term means that the bar will be so high next year that only the league title will do for United next season.
This is why United have to get the next transfer window right. The squad has various weaknesses but most are negligible, because for instance Antonio Valencia, for all his weaknesses, is rarely mentioned in opposition circles as a weak link when coming up against United whilst Daley Blind possesses enough football intelligence to cover in numerous positions with discipline. With Chris Smalling having come of age under Louis van Gaal, central defence is suddenly not as badly off as it looked mid-season when none of Evans, Jones and Smalling looked capable of doing half a decent job there.
What should concern van Gaal and Ed Woodward by extension is that United do not have a player in their ranks that can replace Michael Carrick. Carrick, being a 30 year old plus is on 1 year contract extensions as part of the club's policy. It means we are way off in getting someone in there to ease the transition of moving away from dependence on Carrick. At the moment, the entire shape and effectiveness of the system seems to depend on his availability. Wayne Rooney cannot keep being asked to do a job at which he is not the best at when nobody is doing the one job at which he is 'fantabulous' at.We also risk compromising the brilliance of Ander Herrera in his position because we do not have a ready made replacement for the slick Geordie. It effectively makes finding a replacement top priority this summer.
Unfortunately for van Gaal, he had already penciled in Kevin Strootman to fill that void next season but his cruciate ligament injury set-back at AS Roma means that United have to look elsewhere. Paul Pogba could be on the market again, but there's a job on Ed Woodward's hands if he is to beat off competition from some of Europe's other giants for the Frenchman. He's certainly one for whom crazy money shall be thrown about this summer.
Ultimately, the pressure is now squarely back on United to add onto their trophy haul. The first trophy of the post-Sir Alex era is the launchpad upon which United can build on the Great Scot's era. In whatever capacity that comes, it will be crucial. United still boast a very young average age in their squad (24) and so have in them a generation to grow successful together. Having come to terms with the Philosophy of the manager, the final step, the one that distinguishes successful eras and unsuccessful ones, is cementing those beliefs with trophies to instill inherent confidence in the group ahead of challenges from both the domestic scene and on the continent.